A realisation came to me recently: I hug male friends with more intimacy and warmth than most of my female friends. I started looking out for other groups of guys saying hello or goodbye. I’m not the only one; male huggers are everywhere.
Not long ago it seemed that men greeting other men were limited to three options. First, the traditional handshake – very formal, fine for a business meeting or maybe your father-in-law, but a bit uncomfortable for most other settings.
Then the weird ‘cool-guy’ grasp (think Arnie and Carl Weathers in Predator). It’s fine for getting hyped-up or celebrating on the sports field, but a bit forced in most other scenarios.
Your third option is a highly-bespoke routine, involving fist-bumps and probably sound effects – fine served with a healthy side of irony, but it often seems po-faced.
Now, the hug seems to be the go-to move. It makes sense, because while the handshake’s original intention was to show you weren’t holding a weapon, the hug is more in-keeping with its job as a hello or goodbye.
The male hug seems to have come to prominence in the progressive American sitcoms of the 90s; a stage for feelings to be talked about and even – whisper it – homosexuality to be acknowledged without scorn and disappointment.
Seinfeld was famous for it’s “no hugging, no learning” rule, but two of the next-biggest shows put their bromances front and centre – Friends and Scrubs. Joey and Chandler and JD and Turk laid the groundwork for the modern man. They sidestepped the traditional alpha-male characteristics of sports or bragging about their conquests, and weren’t part of jock culture.
Suddenly, a straight man could fool around, be emotional and ‘get in touch with his feminine side’. If you had a best friend, you showed him how you felt. Traditional male relationships were being dragged into the 21st century (occasionally punching and screaming).
But the British scene is somewhat lacking. Our prototypical modern male relationships range from the bizarre – Sherlock Holmes and Watson – to the downright masochistic – Mark and Jez inPeep Show.
Maybe America has always been more comfortable with talking about feelings (even Tony Soprano had therapy). But is that outdated? Surely young British men are just as comfortable and touchy-feely?
In the media, the perception is still that British men are too restrained and emotionally-stunted to hug. It’s a hangover of the stiff-upper-lip days, when formality and restraint were valued above all else. But the evidence out on the streets certainly suggests times have changed.
As signs of genuine affection go, the male hug is a wonderful addition to the day-to-day social lexicon. It trumps the handshake minefield and the back pat, and I hope it’s something that we hold onto for good.